Naked City

A Latte Fuss over Starbucks

In the face of thick and foamy City Hall opposition, businesswoman Stacy Dukes-Rhone, holder of the lease for the underperforming business center at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, has thrown in the towel on her efforts to sublease the slot to a Starbucks Coffee franchise.

Dukes-Rhone, sister of state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, has lost money on the Austin Airport Business Center lease ever since 9/11 and the economic slowdown dramatically changed the way Bergstrom and other airports work. She had -- with the blessing of Bergstrom management -- partnered with Houston-based Bush Entertainment to sublease the space and bring the world's largest coffee shop into Bergstrom, which has, since its 1999 opening, taken pride in the "local flavor" of its concessions: Austin brands like Schlotzsky's, Matt's El Rancho, Amy's Ice Cream, and the Salt Lick. Many of those brands are in fact licensed by national airport concessionaires that run the Bergstrom locations; meanwhile, actual local owners run franchises (like Auntie Anne's) at the airport. This greatly complicates City Hall's otherwise straightforward desire that Bergstrom be a showpiece for local business. (The City Council earlier this year shot down an attempt by another concessionaire to bring a locally owned Popeyes franchise to the airport.)

After several postponements and much haggling, Dukes-Rhone and Bergstrom staff brought to the council a proposed rewrite of her lease in which she commits to seeking an operator with 51% local ownership to sublease the space and bring in a cafe. (The business-center location is "landside" -- before the security checkpoint -- where currently there are very few services for Bergstrom visitors.) Though a seeming victory for the local-business cause, the proposal wasn't good enough for Daryl Slusher and Brewster McCracken -- who've been the most vocal objectors to national chains at the airport, one of the few issues on which they agree.

Both voted against Dukes-Rhone's proposal because it's still, in their view, unacceptably vague on the question of "local flavor" -- a question that occupied much time at last week's City Council meeting -- and may not preclude an Austin-based company from bringing in its own Starbucks, instead of a local coffee shop. (McCracken also voiced specific objections about Bush Entertainment -- which, he says, has apparently been a problematic tenant at Houston's Hobby Airport and which may not in fact be completely out of the deal with Dukes-Rhone.) However, the council's 5-2 vote authorizes airport staff and Dukes-Rhone to rewrite their current lease and proceed without further council approval.

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